Parashat VaEra

Donated by Ezra Ashkenazi in honor of his wife Sarah

At the end of last week’s Perasha, Pharaoh, in retaliation for Moshe's request to free B'nei Yisrael, decides to punish them by holding back the straw to make the bricks: "Now you will not be given straw to make bricks but your quota of bricks must not diminish"! Rabbi Frand brings an interesting question: Why didn't Pharaoh just double their quota of bricks instead of holding back the straw? The answer is that Pharaoh wanted to break the spirit of the Israelites. Had he merely doubled the quota of bricks, they would have been forced to work harder. But by compelling them to find straw to make the bricks, he created a situation of anxiety and distress: they now had the added worry of being able to find the straw. Today, when someone has to work hard, they can manage, but when you throw financial, health or some other problem that brings worry into the equation, the result is psychological pressure and stress. Rav Pam zt”l told a story about a man who received a lengthy prison sentence of hard labor. He had to push a large wheel round and round for fifteen hours a day. The work was exhausting and monotonous. One day he asked the jailer why the wheel was being turned, and he was told that the wheel was attached to a mill outside the cell, which ground wheat. Upon hearing this, the man’s efforts took on a new purpose. He fantasized in his mind that his toil was producing flour for bread that would feed a hungry child somewhere. He visualized the satisfaction of an old woman on a cold winter morning eating a bowl of hot cereal made from the crushed wheat. These fantasies kept him going through the arduous years of labor. When the day finally arrived and he was released from his captivity, his first request was to see the mill that the wheel was attached to. The guard looked at him with puzzlement. "What are you talking about? There's no mill here, the wheel is attached to nothing! That was your punishment!" When the man heard that his back-breaking efforts over the course of all those years had been in vain, he collapsed and died. This is what Pharaoh intended to inflict on the Israelites. As humans we need to have a sense of accomplishment and when that's taken away from us, it can destroy us! In this week’s Perashah, we begin to learn about the life of Moshe Rabenu, the man whom Hashem chose to redeem the Israelites from their unbearable bondage. Hashem shows us, through Moshe, wonders the world had never seen before and will never see again. Through the wondrous acts that were performed in order to liberate the slaves, Hashem's love for His people was displayed for all the nations to witness. You might think that the leader for a job like that would have to be a person of great stature, with the confidence to be an outstanding orator. Moshe wasn't any of those things, but he possessed the more essential character traits of humility and sensitivity, among others, and that is why Hashem chose him. We learn from this that we have all been given talents from Hashem, and that we must take advantage of those talents so that we may reach our true potential. It is for this reason that we should not look at the people around us and ask, Why is this other person smarter, more diligent or more ambitious than I am? We can only look at ourselves and try to be the best that we can be. Hashem does not expect us to know the entire Talmud by heart, or to make millions of dollars, although many people strive to excel in these areas. Hashem has set each of us a different set of goals in this world. I remember a speech that Rabbi Yissocher Frand delivered at the Siyum Hashas over ten years ago. The Rabbi spoke about a man who had never learned Gemarah but was able to complete one daf (page) of Gemara with his son and on his son’s level, and when he did this, it was as if he had studied the entire Talmud! Hashem only expects us to continually strive to reach our own potential. One of the most famous questions that arises in this Perashah has to do with the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart by Hashem. Before Moshe and Aharon set out on their mission, Hashem warns them, in Perek 7, Pasuk 3: “But I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and I will increase My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt." Before the plagues even begin, Hashem tells Moshe and Aharon that Pharaoh will be stubborn because Hashem will harden his heart, and he will continue to refuse to let the slaves leave Egypt. And indeed, that is what happens. As the plagues are unleashed on Egypt, Pharaoh’s heart is hardened again and again. The commentaries ask, Is not Hashem taking away Pharoah’s Behirah (free will)? And if it is because of Hashem that Pharoah continues to refuse to release the slaves, why are the Egyptians punished with more and more severe plagues? The answer our Rabbis give is that Pharaoh is his own worst enemy. Hashem gives everyone a chance to choose how to utilize their own free will. We must not ignore the numerous opportunities that Hashem gives us to improve our ways. Nevertheless Hashem can remove our free will at any time as he did with Pharaoh, after he ignored Moshe's request to let B'nei Yisrael go. If we choose to follow down a path that leads us to sin and we continue on that path, then Hashem will make it harder for us to refrain from committing that sin and making Teshubah. There is a well-known Rashi commentary from Perashat Balak (22:35), where the Angel of Hashem says to Bilaam, "Go with the men, but do not say anything other than the exact words that I declare to you." Rashi comments: B’derech she’adam rotzeh le’lech, ba molichin oto. "Along the road on which a person wishes to go, there he will be led!" In other words, the way that you really wish to go, that is the way you will allow yourself to be led. Hashem’s guidance proceeds from our own decisions. It is entirely in our hands, which path we want to take: one that will lead us to spiritual growth or, hass v’shalom, to spiritual decline. Rabbi Elimelech Biderman told a story which took place just a few weeks ago in Israel. There’s a wealthy man, we’ll call his name Yaakov, who has a certain affinity for watches. About three years ago, he ordered a custom-made watch that was going to cost him more than 200,000 Shekel, (about $50,000). It was going to take three to four months until the watch was ready, so he slowly set aside the money for it. The day came when he got the phone call that the watch was ready for pick up. He was very excited, but he happened to be out of town that day. He said, "When I return, I will pick it up." A few hours after that call, someone else called him saying that they just found out about a family in B'nei Brak that was left with nothing after their entire house burned down with all of their possessions. "Baruch Hashem, the family is okay," he reassured Yaakov, "but they literally have nothing. They have a lot of little children. There is nowhere for them to stay. We are trying to raise three to four hundred thousand Shekels to rebuild their home. Can you please help us with a sizeable donation?" Yaakov said, "Let me think about it and I will call you back tomorrow." His money was tied up, but he did have that 200,000 Shekels that he set aside for the watch. He started debating in his mind. "On one hand," he said, "I had that watch on special order. I can't just back out of it now. On the other hand, how can I enjoy this luxury when I know that there is a family who is homeless who could use this money." He decided to call the watch dealer to ask if it would be problematic for him to back out now. The dealer said, "Actually, we have about seven other people who want this watch. There is a waiting list for it. We could easily sell it to someone else." Yaakov said, "Okay, so sell it to someone else." He gave the 200,000 shekel to the family in B'nei Brak. Recently in Israel, there was a wave of over 630 different fires and hundreds of apartments and buildings were destroyed,ה’ ישמור. We feel terrible for all of those who are homeless right now. On Thursday night, November 24, the fires spread to the Moshav Bet Meir which is just about a 15 minute drive outside of Yerushalayim. The residents there were all forced to flee. In that Moshav, Yaakov owns a very large house on a large property. His son, who was staying there at the time, was amongst those who had to run for safety. They came back on Friday morning to see the damage. Shockingly, although the house right next door to Yaakov’s house was totally destroyed, the fire never crossed the property line into their domain. Even the new trees that were just planted on the border were not affected, not even one branch was singed. Yaakov helped a family who lost their house in a fire, and three years later, measure for measure, his own house and son were saved from a devastating fire. Hashem has a reason why every single house from amongst the other houses in Israel had to burn down. We do not understand the ways of Hashem. Those people, also, have merits which will be paid at the right time. To see a clear מידה כנגד מידה “measure for measure”, in such a miraculous way, should definitively give us all Hizuk! We can see clearly from this story, how Yaakov had the free will to make the decision, either to keep the money he had put aside for his expensive watch or use it to save a family who was displaced. So because he used his Behira (free will) in the right way, he was rewarded three years later! May we all strive to reach our own personal potential while keeping our humility, as we learn from the example of Moshe Rabenu. We must also be sensitive to the needs of our fellow Jews as we saw in the previous story. May we also have the foresight to always travel on the right path and be able to utilize our Behirah in the proper way, so that we may never come to the point where Hashem will harden our hearts. May we pray, that if our hearts become hardened, that Hashem will guide us back on the right path, so that we can make Teshubah! Amen! Shabbat Shalom! Jack E. Rahmey with the Guidance and Teachings of Rabbi Amram Sananes Leiluiy Nishmat.... Eliyahu Ben Rachel Avraham Ben Garaz Sarah Bat Chanah Malka Bat Garaz Shulamit Bat Helaina Yaakov Ben Rachel Batsheva Bat Sarah Esther Rabbi Shimon Chay Ben Yaasher Rav Haim Ben Rivka Meir Ben Latifa Yitzchak Ben Adele Esther Bat Sarah Chanah Bat Esther Rabbi Meyer Ben Chana Moshe Ben Garaz Rafael ben Miriam Moshe Ben Mazal